MANILA -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima barred other government agencies from disclosing to the media details of the ongoing government investigation on the August 23 hostage drama in Manila.
De Lima issued the directive to members of the Joint Incident Investigation and Review Committee (JIIRC), which she heads, so that no "premature disclosure findings, observations, and unnecessary comments" will be made until the committee submits a final report.
She said the issuance of a "gag order" was agreed on during Monday's first meeting of the government committee tasked to investigate last week's bloodbath at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.
De Lima said improper disclosure of information will only aggravate the situation, citing Hong Kong officials who attended the case conference on Monday agreed to refrain from precipitately talking to the media about the case.
“Dapat may clearance muna bago magbigay ng disclosures (Clearance should be issued first before making disclosures). What can we disclose on a regular basis is the status, stage of the proceedings,” she said.
Top officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) who are taking part in the probe are also covered by the gag order.
De Lima said Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, whose agency is in-charge of the police forces, will be the vice chairman of the JIIRC.
Philippine investigators plan to question Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who helped oversee the hostage negotiations, as well as journalists who interviewed hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza by phone during the drama, de Lima said.
They may also travel to Hong Kong to talk to survivors of the nearly 12-hour standoff.
On Monday, the Philippine authorities allowed Hong Kong forensic experts to inspect the bus.
"We want to appease them and show that we're not hiding anything," PNP spokesman Agrimero Cruz said. "This is a show of transparency."
Guided by Filipino investigators, the Hong Kong team used flashlights as they examined the bloodied passenger compartment, taking pictures of bullet holes and shattered windows. Another checked the bus tires shot out by police to prevent the hostage-taker from moving out of a police cordon.
Hong Kong investigators refused to talk to a throng of Chinese and Filipino journalists. The Hong Kong probers were led by Police Assistant Commissioner David Ng and Superintendent Ng Ka Tsing.
De Lima also said the Hong Kong authorities were allowed to observe the fact-finding proceedings but would not be allowed to participate directly.
“The Hong Kong authorities respect the Philippines’ authority and jurisdiction over the incident. We reiterated the President’s assurance of a fair, thorough and full investigation into the incident,” De Lima said.
Commissioner Ng, on the other hand, said they strongly expressed their country's demand to be allowed to collect all necessary evidence for their inquiries.
“During the meeting, the DOJ secretary agreed that Philippine authorities will fully cooperate with us and facilitate all our inquiries, so today we will go back to the place where the bus is...and we’ll start doing some examination," he said.
Ng said they respect the jurisdiction of the Philippine government and will do their investigation with the advice and in the company of its officers.
Once the committee is ready to submit its findings, de Lima said Hong Kong will be informed and given a copy.
President Benigno Aquino III initially asked the JIIRC to come up with a report in five days but de Lima requested that the period be extended to 10 days.
“I expressed reservations about that because we cannot sacrifice quality and thoroughness in favor of speed," she said.
Part of the panel’s task, she added, is to recommend sanctions on anyone found to have committed lapses that led to the bungled police rescue.
After the fact-finding report, the high-level delegation formed by the President will then proceed to Beijing and Hong Kong to personally hand the report to the Chinese government, said Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. (JCV/Jill Beltran/PNA/AP/Sunnex)